Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Remedial Education Funding Would Not be My Argument for Vouchers

VIN has published another pro-vouchers article from Josh Pruzansky (Executive Director of Agudath Israel New Jersey), as has Rabbi Boteach. Two in one day. This might be a record.

My regular readers know that I support vouchers from an ideological standpoint. And while I have addressed the subject of educational choice, which incidental extends far beyond the subject of school vouchers as Josh Pruzansky points out, I'm not holding out any hope of seeing a voucher in my lifetime. Despite my support for politicians who share my ideological view, I'm not quite sure that vouchers would be a blessing for our communities. But this is perhaps a subject for a future post as the subject is sure to rear its head from now until the day when the community decides that perhaps it is time to concentrate efforts on solving the tuition issue more internally. Perhaps a concerted effort to consolidate schools, throw support behind present and potential future homeschoolers/groupschoolers, enacting minimum tuitions or at the very least collecting agreed upon tuitions (see my last post).

But back to the articles at hand. If you are lobbying for public education funding to be earmarked for private schools, particularly yeshivot, what arguments do you think will be most effective in winning the hearts and minds of politicians and taxpayers who are on the fence so to speak? What arguments might sway parents who might fear adding more students to the role of the taxpayer? What arguments might help convince taxpayers that private schools can do a better job than public schools at a lower cost?

Personally, I would 'vote no' on using the $24 million of earmarked funds in New York that are funding remedial tutoring for *10,000* yeshiva students as an argument for why the taxpayer should hand over governmental funding for parents desiring a yeshiva education. Now certainly where remedial tutoring is needed and where there are outside funds available, I would see no reason not to lobby for remedial education funds for the sake of remediation. But as an argument with the ultimate goal of securing support for the elusive school voucher and/or greater funding for yeshivot. . . no way! The taxpayer isn't interested in a superior gemorrah shiur. The taxpayer wants students graduating with a strong grasp of the three R's. If you aren't able to provide that, I'm afraid the taxpayer isn't going to be too impressed, even where "the government saves by having children in a values-based education system which produces far lower delinquency rates. [Rabbi Boteach]" .

And, to finish up a quick post. . . . . perhaps VIN should reconsider its choice of photo for an article on educational choice. The photo of choice was taken on the day that FBI agents went into the Deal Yeshiva to seize records to investigate a money laundering ring for which community Rabbis were arrested. Not a smart choice for a photo in my opinion.

(Perhaps a kind reader can email VIN with this commentary. I've never got very far on posting comments there).

Update: Google Alerts alerted me that the Agudah had the article published in the Asbury Press. It should be interesting to see the comments that get published. At this time only one comment is in with the introduction "entitled?" This type of article simply does not speak to the American public. It is far too centered on one community.


Anonymous said...

I am strongly against public funding, but since you asked, I think the only effective arguments would be (i) to show how much the public school system saves; AND (ii) how any public funding would be carefully segregated from and not used to promote any religious agenda or ideology in any way - i.e. use the same texts and testing and curricula for courses using public funds; and (iii) show that these schools produce excellent results in terms of standardized test scores, students going on to four year colleges or trade schools, etc. I would perhaps consider showing how the public funds are needed for and would go to things the students aren't otherwise getting like good american history and social studies courses or advanced math and science courses since the U.S. needs to graduate students with strong math and science skills to remain competitive in the global economy.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite quote from the JPost article:
"At this stage in my life, with two children in college and another six in private Jewish schools, the tuition burden has become enormous. There is no way we can save anything since, by the time we pay Englewood property taxes and Jewish day school tuition, there is simply nothing left."
You would not know from this that R. Boteach lives on "the Hill" in Englewood, NJ, in a house on 1.65 acres that he bought for $1.5 million and is now assessed for $3 million.

tdr said...

I have only read the first 2 paragraphs of the VIN article and the I found attitude of entitlement to be so off-putting I don't think I can stand to read anymore.

Upper West Side Mom said...

The kind of vouchers that the general public is interested in supporting are vouchers for inner city kids who's only choice for school is a horrible local public school. I just don't see wide spread support by the public for vouchers that will be used in yeshivas, many of which have substandard general education programs or day schools that are attended by middle and upper middle class students.

The general public does not care if Jewish children get a Jewish education.

Miami Al said...

Well, minority leadership is in bed with the teacher unions, but minority voters are often supportive of getting their students out of those schools.

Middle/Upper Middle class parents that want their kids in private school who can't afford it might be tempted by the opportunity to get vouchers so they could afford it.

Upper Class voters (and contributors) don't want vouchers, they like to think that they "support public schools" that they opt out of, and also like it being exclusive.

Muslim voters could be brought into the cause, as good evangelicals, both of whom are setting up schools.

However, that requires coalition building, something that the Jewish leadership is REALLY lousy at. Influencing politicians is one thing, influencing voters is another, and the ONLY possible way to get vouchers is to put together a coalition of self interested voters and libertarian voters to take things to referendums. No Democratic politician will support a generalized voucher program and anger union support, and Republicans will be increasingly unwilling to back a program that will be used not just for Catholic and Christian schools, but Muslim schools as well.

Vouchers are dead, but Charters are exploding. Flogging the voucher argument is a waste of energy. People like school choice, they don't like public funds without accountability, which is what the vouchers appear to be.

Now tax credits (or at least a deduction) for private education, instead of a voucher, might be an area to explore, but direct money from the state to religious schools? A non starter.

Anonymous said...

To UWS mom:

There are plenty of Orthodox Jews who do live in areas with horrible public schools, such as those who live in Crown Heights or Baltimore City.

Miami Al:

I'm inclined to agree with you that the energy would be better focused on making private school education tax deductable.

Dave said...

There is no chance of vouchers.

I generally agree with Miami Al's analysis, but I would add that the middle and upper middle class voters are also the ones who would be least equipped to handle the increase in property taxes that would be needed to pay for the vouchers.

As far as income taxes go, I doubt first that it would happen, and second, that it would help the Orthodox community if it did happen.

On the first part, with the public actually concerned about the deficit again, it will be hard to put through a tax deduction for private schools. On the second, even if it did go through, large families would slam straight into the AMT anyway.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, if anyone is serious about trying to promote tax deductions, vouchers or other aid to parochial schools, I don't think I would be asking orthodox jews how to sell it. You need to be talking to voters. I also would not hire or use orthodox groups or probably even jewish groups) for polling, PR or any aspect of such a campaign. Sadly, the OJ groups have not done a terrific job on PR on a variety of issues over the past few years. Finally, a broad coalition of people of many religions and seculars/atheists who send their children to private schools for non-religious reasons would be needed.

Ahavah Gayle said...

I think a lot of people don't realize that if the government did implement a voucher program, they would insist on having all the schools have proctored standardized achievement tests (much the way states that permit homeschooling require such tests periodically to renew your homeschooling permit).

Since kids in many UO/Chereidi/Yeshivish communities would never pass such tests, these schools would never be eligible for funding. And once the UO figured out such a program was only benefitting MO, Conservative, and Reform students, they would withdraw support for it. (Of course, they would try and get rid of the achievement testing requirement first, but the only way the voucher program would be approved in the first place is if it included such "protections" against "fly by night" fraud, etc.)

Once again, they aren't thinking this through. Their idea of "education" isn't going to be acceptable to any state authorities. This isn't Israel, it's America, and they have no chance of getting such standards and oversight set aside. All other religious schools are required to meet them in order to be accredited, and only accredited schools get funds.

Offwinger said...

I appreciate what SL is trying to say here:

Enough with the school vouchers! It's a dead-end street, not going to happen, and, to be honest, it acts as a blame-shifter. It suggests that if only the politicians would give us school vouchers, then everything would be ok. This is patently false.

Our education model of universal private school education is simply not feasible unless we make significant changes. Period. Vouchers will not save us, and every ounce of energy devoted to campaigning for vouchers is energy not put to use to come up with solutions that will help our community provide children with Jewish educations absent the wealth needed for universal private schooling.

Anonymous said...

Ahava: You are correct. In addition to tests, there likely would also be certain curriculum requirements that some yeshivas would have a hard time meeting.

If the catholic schools with their far greater numbers and strong secular educations, as well as charity work providing help and scholarships to lots of inner city kids, haven't been able to accomplish public funding, having jewish schools weigh in is not going accomplish much. We also have a public that doesn't want to see funding for madrassas.

Orthonomics said...

Anon above-What the Catholic schools do for (non-Catholic) students in the inner cities is probably the best argument for vouchers. But it isn't happening.

Time to concentrate our efforts elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I also wonder if vouchers will mean that teachers have to be certified, and therefore will have to be paid more --- and on time.

tesyaa said...

I would love to see yeshiva teachers be certified. Including rebbes. The best yeshiva teachers my kids had were the ones who were retired public school teachers.

Anonymous said...

But you are not (and should not) going to get certified teachers working for $30,000/year and no benefits. Certification in most states means a bachelor's and then, within a few years, a master's. So, whatever benefits some public funding might bring may mean higher costs and tuitions.

Chaim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chaim said...

CORRECTION: Matzav- Kollel men should NOT!!!!!!marry women with Careers:

Anonymous said...

The following comment on the Asbury Press reprint of the Agudah article sums up the concerns: "They don't have to teach the state curriculum (so you'd be paying for creationism and who all knows what) or administer state tests (so you'll have no way of knowing if you're subsidizing a "better" alternative). They don't have to hire licensed certified teachers, and if they're religious schools, they can discriminate in hiring. Is that how you want your tax dollars spent?

If your concern is overcrowding, let's fix it. If your concern is safety, let's fix it. If you want your kids to get a religious education, fine but you pay for it."

Other commenters noted there was little risk the kids in private schools would be dumped into the public schools, and others objected to the sense of entitlement in the Agudah editorial.

These probably are the issues (and the style -- don't say we're entitled and don't whine) that anyone trying to sell vouchers or other public funding need to overcome -- at least in NJ.

tdr said...

I just read the comments and they mostly echo the sentiments of the readers of this blog (stop whining and get over the entitled attitude).

It's beyond me why anyone at the Agudah thought it would be a good idea to publish this article in the mainstream press.

Anonymous said...

"It's beyond me why anyone at the Agudah thought it would be a good idea to publish this article in the mainstream press."

In the days of Rabbi Sherer ZT"L, we would have seen a better effort at coalition building and a sounder strategy. The Agudah needs to reflect in these instances on what Rabbi Sherer would have done.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem with articles like the Agudah one is that most people hear "private school" and they think "rich snobs." Part of the sale needs some data on how these are children from low or middle income families with both parents working hard to make ends meet.

Henya said...

Well I happen to live in the inner city neighborhood. In Crown Height. And I have 5 kids in school at this time. All under the age of 13, so I will have them in school for many more years G-d willing. And no we have no money. And yes voucher would we very nice, but not at the price of the government dictating what my kids have to learn. And which teachers they should have.
Sorry, but I would remove my child from such a school. And yes my income is less then 35.000. a year. Actually a lot less. So a tax credit would do me no good.
Inctead of the goverment funding - which is not going to happen, I would love to see a kechila funding. The yeshivas and schools should be our first priority. Fancy shools and simchos can wait.

Upper West Side Mom said...


I hope this does not come off sounding too haughty but I think that a big part of the problem that Jewish community is having is that people are having children they simply can not afford. In my humble opinion people who have an income of $35,000 a year and want to send their kids to a private school should not have 5 children. How can you possibly pay for private school for 5 kids with your income?

I know that one should have emunah that everything will work it's self out but it's pretty evident to me that just having emunah will not help to solve this crisis.

One of the reasons that we decided to stop at 4 kids was because we felt that we just could not afford to have a 5th. If everyone had only as many children as they could truly afford our tuition crisis would disappear tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Just wiat for your taxes to go up. You might very well find yourself in your own tuition crisis with "only" 4 kids.

Anonymous said...

Upperwestsidemom: I don't think it is realistic or appropriate to suggest to Henya and others in her situation not to have so many children, particularly as long as with the help of the generosity of others, they are able to house and feed their children and send them to private school. I'll bet that Henya would have just as soon cut off her right arm as have fewer children. The focus should be on both parents getting a good education/vocational training and a job before starting a family. That is far more realistic and appropriate. At least in Crown Heights, men don't sit in kollels for years.

Dave said...

The unwillingness of the taxpayer to let children starve because their parents can't afford to care for them isn't quite "the generosity of others".

It smacks, at least to me, more of, "well, other people care that your children eat more than you do".

Anonymous said...

Dave: The generosity of others does pays for tuition for her 5 children. Taxpayers probably pay for other things.

What I question is (absent a layoff or illness/disability) why this family only earns 35K. This couple is probably in their mid-30's. Even with 5 children, Mom should be able to work part-time, even if its providing child care for a few other children in her home and earn 10-15K/year. Dad, even without a degree should be able to earn $30,000.00. If he isn't earning that, perhaps he should be going to night school or getting some vocational training.

Anonymous said...

You seem to think that the government cares about what the taxpayers want and provides assistace to prevent children from "starving" in the streets. The government seems to be more interested in amassing as much power as possible, and creating a dependent class if the best way to acquire conrol over the lives on the masses.

Dave said...

So how many folds in your tinfoil hat, 11:33?

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:33:
My experience is that the government tries to be supportive but government intervention often results in inefficiency and unintended consequences. I agree, however, that it often appears that the govenement does not listen to taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

I think Dave, not being Orthodox, does not understand the situation as it applies to men in our community. They have limited skills due to the lack of education they were provided. Often their parents were influenced by the concept of "what would the neighbors think." if their son went to a less observant school with a stronger secular studies program. In other words, what are we supposed to do with 20 something adults who have limited job skills and even more limited educations.

Anonymous said...

Typical Kollel wife LOL!!

tesyaa said...

I think Dave understands the problem, and maybe thinks it is even more widespread than it is. He's just saying it's not sustainable.

I agree that people can't have unlimited number of kids and limited educations and then want private schools. Whether that means public schools or fewer kidss, something will have to change.

Avi said...


If you have five children and a family income of under $35K per year, you have entered (whether by choice or circumstance) a lifestyle that requires assistance from others - certainly for private school tuition, and quite possibly for rent, food, and health care. Yes, tax breaks would not affect your situation, and vouchers aren't going to happen. But your attitude towards vouchers baffles me: if you aren't paying for something, you can't complain if the educational priorities don't perfectly match your philosophy. I'm glad that you have found a school that gives you free or discounted tuition today that does meet these needs. But your call for kehilla funded schools is silly - who do you think is funding the schools now? The kehilla.

Anonymous said...

Government programs will be more available for those in Henya's situation in the near future. She could then use the money she would normally spend on medical care, food and rent and use it to pay tuition.

Anonymous said...

Henya: Thanks for commenting. It's brave of you. Would you care to share with us whether, knowing what you know now, would you and your husband have done anything differently when you were younger to try to change your family's economic situation, and at this stage, do you see any realistic potential for it to change? Is there anything you would encourage your children to do to or not do to help ensure that the next generation will also be able to afford private school or have enough people in the community able to support private schools to make up for those who can't pay full tuition?

Commenter Abbi said...

Kechila funding? Are you planning a Kechel bake sale?

Henya, it really is "kehilla" with a "ה" in Hebrew (and Yiddish for that matter). This isn't a matteר or Ashkenaz or stupid non-religious mispronunciation. It's really a regular old ה